A large, enthusiastic crowd of Vanderbilt fans assembled Sunday at the McGugin practice fields to meet first-year coach Bobby Johnson, to get a peek at the new Commodore uniforms, and to check out the newly dedicated practice facilities.
While young children played on inflatable toys set up on Natchez Trace, fans stood in long lines on the spanking new AstroPlay practice field to obtain autographs from players and coaches. The longest line formed in the center of the field for the gray-haired Johnson, who took over for Woody Widenhofer last Dec. 23.
"We were overwhelmed," joked Johnson. "I had to call for ice out there at the autograph station. My wrist went into a cramp. I had to call for a trainer, and a couple of players came over and substituted for me."
About those new uniforms... the new helmets are gold, as in past years, but feature a new logo-- a white block "V" inside a black star-- and three stripes down the middle.
The three sets of jerseys and pants, designed by Nike, each come in black, gold and white, giving the Commodores a possible nine different jersey-and-pant combinations. The jerseys had no names on the backs, at least as yet. The game pants sport three stripes down the outside of the legs.
The nine different combinations were modeled by senior players Aaron McWhorter, Mike Martin, Jamie Byrum, Justin Giboney, M. J. Garrett, Dan Stricker, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Rushen Jones, and Brandon Walthour.
"We haven't decided where exactly where we will wear each of these [combinations]," said Johnson. "But I think they look great, and I think the guys modeling them look great."
"Isn't this great?" Chancellor Gordon Gee asked the throng. "None of that [Tennessee] orange around."
The new $5.5 million practice fields were dedicated and named in honor of John Rich, the former player, businessman and Board of Trust member whose gifts made the project possible.
"We're looking at facilities that can't be matched," said Johnson of the new practice fields and also the new weight room, which was christened last winter. "They meet our needs. I'm very proud to coach the team that works out on this field and that weight room."
"How many decades has it been since Vanderbilt has had three major facility dedications in one year?" asked chief fundraiser John Ingram, referring to Memorial Gymnasium, Charles Hawkins Field for baseball, and the John Rich Practice Facility. "We're here today to celebrate another example of commitment to excellence in athletics here at Vanderbilt. And I'm here to tell you that we're not through."
Johnson thanked Gee and athletics director Todd Turner for the chance to represent the Commodores as head coach. "I'm extremely proud of the team we have," Johnson told the crowd. "They're classy young men. We've had two great practices already.
"I tell you what-- they expect to do great things for Vanderiblt. And they're working to do it. We are committed to winning at Vanderbilt football. But when we do, we're going to win the right way-- a way you can be proud of. The Vanderbilt way."